I was talking with someone the other day (not from around here) and in the course of our conversation he spoke of his boss who has faced serious illness and recovered. The person I was speaking with is a Christian as is his boss. He related to me the gist of a speech his boss (who actually owns the company) gave to all his employees upon his return to work. It went something like this: "I'm not afraid to die. I know exactly where I'm going and who I am going to be with. I hope you do too. I'm ready to die any time." Simple, as matter of fact, and all-knowing as that!
There was a time when I would have regarded such speech as faith talk. Not any more.
Sister Joan strikes exactly the right cadence in her talk about faith. She talks of how the reality of our death at some point comes home to us. At that point, she writes, "I find myself facing a moment over which I have absolutely no control. I will die." She continues, "What's more, I do not really know what will be required of me then. I have no idea what the moment will be like. I only know that I will be alone. I will travel this road unaccompanied, go through it by myself, face life's greatest venture without caretakers, without companions, without support. There will be no one who can go with me down this tunnel into nowhere. It is the moment of absolute surrender." That sounds much more like faith talk to me. Trust in the face of the unknown. Trust is always hard won and not to be confused with a simple, matter of fact, all knowing claim that trivializes realities such as death.
In effect, I think she sees faith as the way we name the struggle to trust. When speaking of the questions we have about our own capacity to trust in the God we do not see, she writes, "The irony of the struggle is that this unknowing is, in the end, what faith is about."
As we age, the illusion of our invincibility to death fades. Of course, we never escape it entirely no matter how young. Death is too much a part of this life. That being said, aging does strip away whatever vestige of denial we may have unknowingly retained. If only because we find ourselves, increasingly, dealing directly with the demise and death of friends and loved ones.
Today is Good Friday--a day when death looms as large as it ever does in the Christian tradition. Today, Christians the world over and right here at home will take the time to contemplate the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. There is nothing simple, matter of fact or all-knowing about that.
The story begins with an anguished prayer in the middle of the night: "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not my will but your will be done." Then comes betrayal and abandonment, torture and unimaginable suffering. It leads to the agonized cry (itself a prayer) from the cross that resounds across the ages, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It concludes with a final breath and prayer, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." All talk of faith must remain true to that story.
Easter morning does not trivialize the reality of our dying even as it declares that there is a love that finally overcomes the finality of death. Easter declares that trust, of the kind we call faith, is never in vain...it always encompasses all that we know and more than we can know. Faith is what keeps us open to the One who knows us in the midst of whatever darkness we may find ourselves, even our dying.
All talk of faith and life and death, and everything in between, encompasses the whole story of this Holy Week. No part is left untold. A blessed Good Friday to you.